Monday, April 13, 2009

Looking for the Exit

Last week, National Post columnist Don Martin suggested that the prime minister might be "polishing his resume." Whether or not that's true, as Tom Walkom wrote in the Toronto Star last Tuesday, "there is a quiet air of desperation around Stephen Harper."

For, essentially, the economic axioms upon which Mr. Harper built his academic and political career have crumbled. In 1991, the year he completed his Master's thesis in Economics, he wrote, "The record indicates that particularly activist Keynesian policy has been rare in the post war period. The results indicated that it should remain so." In the last six months, the prime minister has tried to throw that conclusion down the memory hole. The problem is that this is Canada, not Oceania.

Mr. Harper is certainly not the first politician whose words have come back to bite him. His real problem, though, is that his actions -- more than his words -- have done him in.

Like Richard Nixon, he is his own worst enemy. Taking his cue from Canada's last Conservative prime minister, Brian Mulroney, Harper planned to achieve power by building crucial support in Quebec. But, in the last election, his failure to understand the importance of cultural issues in that province spelled the difference between a majority and a minority government. Then, in November, desperately trying to save his government from defeat, he took direct aim at the Parti Quebecois, who represent the vast majority of Quebec voters. The result was that his support in that province evaporated.

Finally, in an effort to distance Harper from Mulroney -- who is presently in his own pot of boiling water -- the prime minister's office leaked the news that Mulroney had asked that his name be removed from all party lists. Mulroney exploded and called the perpetrators of that information liars. The feud with Mulroney has opened up the old divide between the two wings of the prime minister's party -- the Progressive Conservatives and the hard right Reform Party members.

It comes as no surprise that a man with a talent for wounding himself should be giving interviews to American and international media, singing the praises of Canada's banks -- which the previous Liberal government refused to cater to when they suggested mergers to help them bulk up and play in the same league as their international competitors. These are the same competitors that have received large bundles of taxpayer money, because they have been deemed too big to fail.

Mr. Harper has conceded that, like many of his fellow citizens, he "may eventually lose" his own job. Like any man with a wife and young children, he is looking around for something else before the axe falls. And, not a man to go backwards, Harper is fishing in international waters -- for "something like a lofty academic position at the London School of Economics," Martin suggests,"or a United Nations gig. In other words, he might have to follow Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff's career path in reverse."

As countless party leaders could tell the prime minister, there is life after politics. The trick is finding your way to the exit.


Karma Getin said...

I do enjoy your column. Always impeccably written, it provides a little of everything I look for in a political statement: something I agree with, something I don't, and something I didn't know before. I've added you to my short list of resources to keep me 'in the know' when I don't have time to be as informed as I would like to be.

Owen Gray said...

Thanks for your comment. As the parents of three boys -- one who is still at home -- my wife and I relate entirely to your last post, although in our house, there is an X Box not a PS 2.

It's nice to know that your readers read carefully and critcally.